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iamjulian

First Light Report SkyWatcher Explorer 150

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I collected my new Skywatcher Explorer 150 reflector on Saturday from Evergreen Optics, fully expecting the clouds to hold for the customary three weeks (I have been reading this forum for long enough to know what to expect). On getting it home, and nearly giving myself a hernia getting the box from the car into the garage, I unpacked the mount first. I wasn't expecting it to be that solid. With the two counter weights in place I couldn't lift it more than a few inches off the floor. Super sturdy. Next I unpacked the jet black tube with its white rings which too was sturdier and heavier than I had imagined. Attaching with the dovetail was a bit nerve wracking, not wanting to see it slide to the floor! I was going to replace the finder scope they give you with the red dot finder that I already have but to be honest I quite liked the cross hairs so for now it is staying. Using a tv aerial on a house down the street I was able to get a pretty good alignment, and with the 25mm eyepiece in place I was able to see flies stuck in a spider web on the aerial. Then it was a case of riding out the cloud and waiting for darkness.

Finally last night the local forecast was for the clouds to clear at 9pm and not return until midnight. So I got the scope set up in the back garden in preparation. It was then that I got a pleasant surprise. From the back garden I have good clear skies to the east and west but the house is blocking most of the southern sky, except for a gap where our garage and next door's garage meet with a flat roof. This does give me a nice wedge of sky through which the planets will pass and in which a 54% (according to neave planetarium) moon was currently sitting. I worked my way through the eye pieces until I was looking at it with a 10mm EP and a 2x barlow (150x magnification). Lovely. It was still daylight, only 9pm, but the craters were pin sharp and I could clearly seen the central peaks that some of them contain (I haven't studied the moon in enough detail to know which crater is which yet). What was also striking was the lack of boiling in the atmosphere. I have looked at the moon through bins when it was at a similar height and it has been shimmering away. But not last night. It was at that point that I wished I had another EP that would allow a magnification closer to the practical limit of 300x. Am I right in thinking the lack of disturbance in the atmosphere is what is referred to as 'good seeing'? I stayed on the moon for a good half an hour, taking in the beauty of the thing. I suspect it will look even better with the extra contrast that comes with darkness.

The clouds did indeed being to clear completely so I settled down in the back room watching the tennis, waiting for the sky to darken enough for the first stars to become visible to the eye. Just before 10pm my neighbours directly opposite came to their window and had a good nose at the scope. It was amusing. One face appeared, then another. They couldn't see me but they were clearly wondering what on earth it was. The next thing I noticed was how much darker it was in London. During breaks in the live tennis coverage they kept going to outdoor shots showing how it was the first time they had been able to play so late. All the lights were on in the city and it really was almost properly dark. It was possibly about 10.15pm. I'm in Shropshire and it was still completely light. In fact it was more like 10.45 before the sky was as dark as it had been on the TV, half an hour before. It made me think about you poor observers in Scotland! You have it good in Winter though.

By 10.45 the first star appeared high in the East and I knew it was Vega. Although I had set the scope angle to match my latitude and pointed the tripod leg helpfully marked N to the north, it was too light to see Polaris so a rough polar align would have to do. Happy that I was close with the tripod setup, I swung the scope around to point at Vega. Clunck. I couldn't move it far enough before the leg got in the way. Hmm. I wasn't too bothered about proper tracking at the moment, I just wanted to get a look at a star, so basically I cheated and moved the whole tripod around - I will come back to polar alignment another day. I got the finder scope lined up and only needed a very small adjustment (even at 150x) to get the star centred. Wow. Perfect diffraction spikes, it looked like a little diamond. Gorgeous. I moved about a bit and saw some dimmer stars close by but I knew that it was going to be another half hour or so before I could get a good look at anything else so I had to call time on a very brief but very happy first outing with the scope. I realise I have probably been spoilt now with a first night with good atmospheric conditions but better than the opposite I suppose.

This place is a wonderful resource with lots of really useful information. Thank you all for sharing and I look forward to sharing more observing sessions in the near future.

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Congrats Julian on your first light, great report. Glad you didnt fall in to the time consuming first ever polar alignment procedure! Best to get some observing in. Sounds like you did what I did... Vega was my first ever telescopically observed star (hence my user name). I find it good to compare Vega with Arcturus high in the South West which is very slightly brighter and a good colour comparison. A teasing month June isnt it. At last we have reached the end. Up until now the days have been shorting only in the mornings, tonight onwards the nights finally start to draw in too :-). You're bang on with the moon, it comes alive in a darker sky.

Look forward to your future reports

Cheers

Matt

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Great first report Julian, sounds like you are really enjoying your new scope. Keep us informed of your progress.

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Hi Julian and many thanks for the insightful report. What I liked about this, was the way you wove a story around your observing session. Of course, it never gets really dark at this time of year and unless you push through to the wee small hours, your hardly going to set world records for deep sky finds, but at least you started.

Good work and look forward to future reports.

Steve

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:) Wonderful first light report Julian, this is the first time i've ever heard of anyone using flies in a spiderweb to align the scope... well done! :)

Yes, the lack of atmospheric turbulence is called 'good seeing'. Damian Peach put together this animated page showing what a bright star under high power looks like under different seeing.

The Moon is absolutely stunning with proper contrast.. if you're curious regarding the features you'll be seeing, try Sky & Telescope's Field Map of the Moon (that's the USA's 'Amazon' page, i understand there's a different one for the UK). Anyway, the Field Map contains a lot of info for a reasonably small price. ;)

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Matt, I have your suggested list of targets to go at. I shall add Arcturus to the list.

Thanks Doc, I shall indeed.

Steve, you are right, I realise DSOs aren't possible at the moment, just going to have to be patient.

Talitha, ha ha the flies in the web were not on purpose but we useful for focusing. Thanks for the great links. I didn't have circles around the star but diffraction spikes. Do you have to back it out of focus to get the circles?

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Julian, i've never had a Newt and don't know whether you'd see diffraction circles or not.. maybe you see the spikes from the spider vanes instead? (There are those spiders again. :))

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With my Newt you get the circles when u go out of focus (more so at high power). This can be an aid to checking how good the collimation of your mirrors is. I get diffraction spikes when focussed (more so on bright stars, again more prominent at high power). Its down to personal preference but I find diffraction spikes a very pleasing view. Vega and Arcturus demonstrating this well :-)

Matt

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That makes sense, I wondered how people were able to give accurate numbers out of ten for seeing. I'll know how to check now.

Incidentally I had a look out of the window this morning at 3.40am. It was already pretty much daylight, but to the south was Jupiter shining through thin cloud. I'm sure I have seen it before without knowing what I was looking at, but boy was it bright. Checking the current magnitude at the moment it was about -2.5 last night. At the same time Venus was low in the east at -4! I couldn't see it because the cloud was too thick, but if -2.5 was bright, -4 must be an amazing sight. Again, I'm certain I have seen Venus in the past without actually knowing it was Venus.

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I also have a Skywatcher Explorer 150pl and I am really happy with it, as a first scope I think you've made a great choice. My own scope shows stars with diffraction spikes when focused fully which I think enhance the view.

Arcturus is a great star to view, highly recommended. I agree DSO's are a nightmare to find for the beginnner especially at this time of year. My advice is to be really patient, I spent weeks looking for M81 & M82 and still haven't spotted them!!!!

However when you do finally land on one like I did a week or so ago with M13 you'll be blown away!!.

Great report.

RTB

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Thanks for the encouragement RTB. I am looking forward to late Autumn/Winter as you can imagine. I am guessing I will find it slightly easier than you to find DSOs because you have the planet hunting version at f/8. Not having compared the two scopes side by side (and being a complete newcomer to the subject) I may be wrong, but in theory at least :)

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Enjoyed reading this report. Sounds like a good scope. I enjoy looking at the Moon early on, too. It's amazing how much detail you can pick up. I can watch it for ages, as you mention. Have you seen Albireo yet, I love it. If your making a list of targets, stick it on. It's an awesome double star, easy to find, too, because it's fairly bright to the naked eye and part of a distinctive cross shape.

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Good report. I've had one of these scopes for a couple of years now and have seen more than I ever imagined I would with it. You should have many more good nights to come. It's been worth every penny and more for me (just get into trouble with the girlfriend sometimes for making noise in the early hours!).

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